Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Listening For Coyote

I have a love for clear calm nights. As the night slows down and humans turn their attention to indoor activities, nature’s choir is just getting warmed up. Suddenly one piercing yelp cry leads to at least a half dozen more: the nighttime social life of the coyote has begun!

The coyote is a member of the dog family. In size and shape the coyote is like a medium-sized collie dog. However its tail is round and bushy and is carried straight out below the level of its back. They are one of the few wild animals whose vocalizations are commonly heard. At night coyotes both howl (a high quavering cry) and emit a series of short, high-pitched yips. Howls are used to keep in touch with other coyotes in the area (“I am here and this is my area!”). Sometimes, when it is first heard, the listener may experience a tingling fear of danger. But to those seasoned to the outdoors the howl of the coyote is truly “a song of the West”.

Coyotes typically dig their own dens and on average give birth to six pups in early spring. At this time food is abundant also which makes the timing of this event critical. The pups will live and play in the den for 6-10 weeks before beginning to venture out to hunt with Mom as a group. The family gradually disbands and by fall pups are hunting on their own and venturing away forming their own territory within a year of birth. Small mammals such as squirrels and rabbits make up a bulk of their diet but they also will diet on mice, insects, fruit and carrion, and even reptiles! Biologists now feel that only 10-14% of their diet comes from livestock such as poultry or young/sick sheep, etc…. Obviously great controversy exists over this very aspect of their being: are they really vicious killers or simply opportunistic hunters?

Coyotes are one of the most adaptable animals in the world. They have long been one of the most controversial of all non-game animals. Agricultural interests have urged its control by whatever means necessary so that actual and potential livestock losses may be eliminated. Environmentalists firmly believe that they are necessary to preserve the balance of nature. Actually the nearly successful attempt to exterminate the gray wolf (the coyote’s primary predator!) has been largely responsible for the coyote’s great expansion across the continent! Biologists do agree that individual animals preying on livestock and poultry should be destroyed. But they also agree that the species as a whole is not necessarily harmful, because much of its diet is made up of destructive rodents. Biologists also agree that coyote populations have no lasting effects on other wildlife populations. So the controversy rages on.

The adaptability of this cleaver creature brings humans into play as well. They can quickly learn to associate us as a food source and have been known to beg for food from people! The most important thing you can do is at no time ever leave any pet food outdoors, especially overnight. Equally as critical is to realize that they love nothing more than cats and often will take small dogs. Be responsible and keep your small pets indoors and don’t attract the coyote to your domain in the first place by leaving pet food outdoors. This alone will greatly aid in keeping the likelihood of a confrontation to a minimum and allow us all to co-exist and enjoy our signing neighbors! Listen for them this spring…they have a lot to say.

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